A first defeat in nine games at the hands of rock-bottom Sheffield Wednesday demonstrates that this team has a way to go before mid-table, rather than survival, is the main goal.
In a low-quality game between two sides that lacked the confidence, or ability, to take the game to the other, it was decided by a second-half set-piece by the Owls. Despite throwing on a glut of forwards later on, the Sky Blues never really looked like grabbing the goal to salvage a point and extend the unbeaten run.
It’s Been Coming
The unbeaten run ends at eight games. That it didn’t feel a massive step-down in performance probably says more about the last eight games than it does about this one.
As much as the team deserves credit for tightening up at the back, it has come at the cost of our development as an attacking unit. Having struggled to sustain pressure on the opposition goal in the previous eight matches, this was the game where we were punished for being unable, or unwilling, to take the game to an opponent.
The frustration with losing this game was that it was apparent from early on that Sheffield Wednesday were lacking in confidence and were a seeking to avoid errors rather than taking the game to us. Their defence seemed nervous from early on – with Maxime Biamou and Callum O’Hare causing them problems – while they committed few bodies forward in attack.
While the absence of Gustavo Hamer is likely to be cited as a key reason for our creative shortcomings in this game, the truth is that we don’t create a lot even when Hamer is available to call upon. We’ve taken the fourth-lowest number of shots in the division and rank similarly when factoring in the quality of shots taken by using Expected Goals. If we truly want to kick-on into mid-table this season, the creativity levels are going to have to significantly increase.
Once we looked to chase the game from a losing position, there was a lack of structure and composure in our attacking play. It was not a case of upping the intensity of what we were already doing but hoping that adding extra attacking players to the side would make an impact. While there was an extent to which it did, that was down to finally committing players forward rather than the qualities of the additional forwards provided.
The performance underlines where this team is at as a Championship side. Whether it’s down to mentality or talent, we haven’t yet developed the ability to take the game to opponents – the Rotherham match aside. Until we do, every point we gain is going to be a battle.
A Needless Free-Kick To Give Away
As mediocre we were in attack, the game was decided by a set-piece situation that could have been avoided entirely.
Ben Wilson has attracted a lot of criticism for playing a pass across his own goal when under pressure, but Leo Ostigard probably has to shoulder the majority of the blame. First of all, Ostigard is the player who calls for the pass. Secondly, he made the decision to foul Barry Bannan before he had assessed the level of danger caused by the Sheffield Wednesday midfielder’s interception – the ball was rolling harmlessly towards the corner flag by the time Ostigard had crunched the Scot.
As well as Ostigard has played recently, those two successive lapses in judgement were the result of his inexperience. While his decision to call for the ball could be characterised in a positive way for wanting to influence a game when the majority of his team-mates were not, it was panicky hot-headedness that saw him foul an opponent in a dangerous area when he didn’t need to.
With an inexperienced goalkeeper and centre-back, these kind of errors come with the territory. The bigger issue in this game was that we were relying on Ben Wilson and Leo Ostigard to be faultless rather than the fact that they weren’t in this instance.
All On O’Hare
With Gustavo Hamer suspended for this game, all eyes were on how his direct replacement, Ben Sheaf, would fill the void, but it was Callum O’Hare who ended up with the main burden of creative responsibility for the side.
By setting up with effectively two in central midfield, O’Hare not only had to be the key creative spark for the team in his role just behind the strikers but he needed to work hard without the ball to prevent the team getting overwhelmed in the centre of the park.
It initially appeared as if O’Hare relished the extra responsibility handed to him. He constantly found pockets of space in the early stages of the game, which put Sheffield Wednesday’s defence on the turn and threatened to get Tyler Walker and Maxime Biamou into positions where they could threaten the opposition goal. Out of possession, he perhaps has to take some of the blame for the amount of time Barry Bannan found on the ball, but it could be forgiven had made more of a creative impact for the team.
Those promising early moments were let down by Callum O’Hare’s decision-making. At least one opportunity was spurned by O’Hare releasing the ball far too early for Tyler Walker, while the former Aston Villa youngster ended up getting fouled a lot because he was holding onto the ball for a little too long.
As the game wore on, it didn’t help Callum O’Hare that the team refused to commit players forward in support of him. He started receiving the ball in deeper and deeper positions with few players ahead of him, meaning he either had to beat three or four defenders to open the game up or go down to win free-kicks to get the rest of the team up the pitch.
While it was another difficult game for Callum O’Hare, he was put in an environment where it was difficult for him to succeed – as he has been for much of this season. It is 10 games since O’Hare’s last goal and 26 since his last assist. At the moment, the harsh truth is that he isn’t a player we should be looking to build a game-plan around.